Theater Review: Wilbury Group Gets Up Close With Pinter's 'Betrayal'

Feb 3, 2017

Tom Chace and Tanya Anderson in The Wilbury Group's "Betrayal."
Credit The Wilbury Group

Providence's Wilbury Group is doing Harold Pinter's 1978 play “Betrayal” a drama of many turns, many changes. Rhode Island Public Radio's Bill Gale has the review.

Reviewing a Pinter play can be a whole lot like producing one. You think you've got the script figured out, got it ready to be fully understood, liked or disliked. Then, suddenly all is changed, either a lot or, more likely, just a bit. Enough to throw  you off, make you wonder, make you not quite sure. 

Let's go back to a couple of Pinter works. In “No Man's Land”  from 1975 we see two men, old timers, sitting down for a couple (or maybe more) whiskeys. Are they long-term friends? Or brand new buddies? You'll find out, but never for sure. 

Then, there's 1965 's "The Birthday Party” which turns out to be more of a killer-diller than a  fun time. And you never really quite understand why. 

So, then, why should 1978's “Betrayal” be any different? It's not really.

What we see are three people. There's Emma, an attractive middle-aged woman, mother of two children,  and lover of two guys. She's pretty happy with the situation, you see. She's got her husband Robert, a phlegmatic gent, happy enough, in an odd sort of way. His friend and fellow worker is Jerry. He maintains a flat outside of London where he and Emma can meet up pretty regularly before heading back to their spouses.

From there, Pinter wheels us into their heads. He does it by moving the play backwards. For nine years. Instead of growing older, the three actors must master becoming younger as they flaunt and fight about the old days, when they traveled to Italy, when  they found happiness that may, or may not, have continued.

Now, this is not an easy script for any director or group of performers to pin down. At the Wilbury, director Aubrey Snowden has brought about a workmen-like version of  “Betrayal.”  The three actors come across as better than adequate but do not quite reach the misty sky-high interpretations that this play must have to succeed completely. 

As Emma, Tanya Anderson seems to grasp her character with considerable firmness. She gives us a woman who is happy enough with her double life. Whether she is lounging on a couch in a nightgown, seeming to read closely while also fending off the man who's present this time. She's a notable woman and her interpretation matches the feeling that Pinter seems to have—that is, that women are more able to deal with ambiguity than men. 

As the guys, Tom Chace and David Tessier  both have their moments. After all, these are a couple of dudes who think they know it all, until Pinter changes things, once again.

Perhaps the best aspect to this production is the think-out-of-the-box setting  put forth by scenic designer Josh Christofferson. He places the audience on only – by my count –about 30 seats on two sides of the playing space. It's up close and tight but it also works, giving the actors close up conditions that rival those created by Pinter.

And then there are windows that suddenly flash open, with the cast moving through (or is that fleeing away from?) the audience. The set, unorthodox as it is, seems perfect for a play by Pinter. All is up close and tight and yet can whisk away, in a Pinterian second.

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“Betrayal” continues through February 12th at The Wilbury Group in Providence.  Bill Gale reviews the performing arts for Rhode Island Public Radio.